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Provo city officials are exploring the possibility of creating an anti-discrimination ordinance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
At a work meeting Tuesday, City Council members unanimously approved asking city staff to research discrimination in housing and employment in Provo though they held back on authorizing a draft ordinance amid concerns it could be "misused," as councilman Rick Healey said.
The research will likely take a few months and the council didn't set a specific date to bring the issue back, though members did say the Mormon church-owned Brigham Young University should be involved in the process. BYU and the housing it owns would be exempt from any rule that might pass.
Provo city councilman Hal Miller said the ordinance would give people a place to go if they are victimized.
"It's important for us as a municipal council to be forward-looking, to be the kind of community that is out in front of the issue," he said. "In my personal opinion, it bodes well for the Provo image as it moves into the future."
Councilman Sterling Beck said it could also help grow the area's tech industry by helping recruit employees from out of state.
"There is this perception ... that living in Utah or living in Provo is perhaps not the same as living in other states that are conceived as being more accepting of people and more fair," he said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which counts about 80 percent of residents in the county as members, has drawn the ire of LGBT activists by working against movements to legalize same-sex marriage. But the Mormon church has softened though not ended its efforts in that area, and church leaders publicly supported Salt Lake City's anti-discrimination ordinance in 2009. Religious organizations are exempt from that rule, as are state and federal agencies.
Though Healey said he supports "protecting somebody who needs protection," he raised concerns based on his 30 years as a police officer.
"It's frustrating to me that no matter what happened, the accusation was always that, 'You're only doing this because I'm black, or because I'm Mormon, or because I'm a girl,' " he said. "I'm always hesitant to be wanting to give, frankly, in today's world, anybody extra beyond what everybody else gets."
But he said the "gentle" Salt Lake City model, which creates an administrative process for complaints to be heard, might work.
"I don't believe if we sign a piece of paper it changes our hearts. I believe it's up to us as a community to make that change," said Councilman Gary Winterton. "I wonder whether this would make a huge change that would be worth all the bother."
How do Utah cities score on LGBT rights?
The Human Rights Campaign, a national civil rights organization, released the 2013 Municipal Equality Index Tuesday. It ranks U.S. cities based on their laws, police, employment practices and relationship with the LGBT community. Salt Lake City earned 87 points out of 100, while West Valley City got a 42. Provo earned 10 points.